Eastern Edge – Sophomore Slump or Bump?



Brayden Point - USA TODAY Sports Images


We’ve all heard of the sophomore slump, but is it really a thing? I always believed that it is all up to the individual player. If he starts believing all the hype and gets away from doing something different than what got him to the NHL, then he may struggle in his second year. If he’s the type of player who continually looks to improve, then he’s less likely to bask in the glory during the offseason and more likely to spend it training for the next campaign.

That all sounds good, but sometimes even those players who work hard suffer the dreaded sophomore slump for a plethora of reasons. This week, I’ll try to help sort out how some of the Eastern Conference;s 2016-17 rookies will fare in the upcoming season:


Brady Skjei

The Rangers defenseman seemingly came out of nowhere to post 39 points in his rookie season. In the year before, Skjei recorded 28 points in 68 AHL games, not exactly foretelling of what was in store for his first NHL campaign. Additionally, in his final year of college hockey, he was only able to muster 10 points in 33 contests.

He’s a good skater and can move the puck, so maybe he’s found his niche at the NHL level. For the upcoming season, defenders gone from the team are Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Adam Clendening. They have been replaced by Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo.

Shattenkirk will eat up all the prime power-play ice time, assuming the team sticks with four forwards and one defenceman as their first option with the man advantage. If that happens, Skjei will have to compete with Ryan McDonagh for second-unit minutes. The good news for Skjei owners is that 32 of his 39 points last year were at even-strength.

Verdict:  Slump


Travis Konecny

The play of the rookie made it much easier to trade away Brayden Schenn. Konecny scored 101 points in 60 games in his final season of junior hockey. He made the leap directly to the NHL last year, recording 28 points in 70 matches with the Flyers. He gained a ton of confidence during the World Championship where he notched eight points in 10 games for Team Canada.

With Schenn out of the way, it appears as though Konecny will get a shot at playing on the top line in Philadelphia this year. Schenn was also locked in on the Flyers first-unit power play, which Konecny could be in line to inherit a good number of those minutes. His sophomore season is setting up to be a breakout campaign.

Verdict:  Bump


Brayden Point

Tampa was in a similar situation to Philadelphia in that without the emergence of an up-and-coming offensive player, they likely wouldn’t have traded one of their key players. Point’s play last year made it much easier to send Jonathan Drouin to Montreal.

At the end of last season, Point was playing more than 75 percent of his even-strength shifts with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, showing that he belonged on a scoring line with 16 points in 21 contests. When all was said and done, Point finished with 40 points in 68 games in his rookie campaign.

In his final junior season, he had 35 goals and 88 points in 48 games. He also recorded five points in five World Junior Championship contests and finished his junior career with 16 points in 10 playoff matches.

Many pundits have predicted with the return of Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, Point will be pushed to third-line center. My take is that Point is too good, and the Lightning will figure out a way to take advantage of his offensive abilities, whether he plays center or wing. I’d also be willing to bet that he ends up receiving top power-play minutes, as well.

Verdict:  Bump


Zach Werenski

It would be tough for a rookie defender to have a better NHL debut than Werenski did. He finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy and 18th in Norris Trophy balloting after posting 11 goals and 47 points in 78 games.

In the year leading up to his inaugural NHL campaign, Werenski scored 36 points in as many games for the University of Michigan. He starred at the World Junior Championship, recording nine points in seven games for the bronze medal winning American side. Werenski was voted the tournament’s top defenseman. When his college career was done, he played seven AHL games, garnering one point, but he really stood out in the AHL playoffs, recording 14 points in 17 matches.

Over his final 41 games of the season, Werenski had 19 points, a 38-point pace. After a 32-point jump for the Blue Jackets, they may be in for a decline, as teams realize that they have to take them seriously. The same goes for Werenski, he’ll have to evolve his game as the NHL figures out what makes him successful. He may struggle to match his rookie totals in his sophomore season.

Verdict:  Slump


Pavel Zacha

The Devils have been busy adding some scoring punch to their line-up. Marcus Johansson and first overall pick Nico Hischier will only aid last year’s acquisition of Taylor Hall and help bring the Devils back to some semblance of offensive respectability.

With Travis Zajac rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle for the next four to six months, there is an opportunity for the super sophomore to shine. Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall choice in the 2015 NHL entry draft. In his final junior season, he notched 28 goals and 64 points in 51 games along with 13 points in seven playoff contests.

His 24-point NHL rookie campaign was just scratching the surface of his prodigious skill set. He’ll need to have a good camp and win a top six role and if he can score some top unit power-play time, he just might be able to double his rookie point totals in his second season.

Verdict:  Bump



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